By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda rapped about Alexander Hamilton, Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers brought “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” to Broadway, an irreverent punked-out version of seventh president of the United States. Imagine getting a history lesson in New York’s CBGB & OMFUG on a Saturday night at four in the morning.
A Storyteller (Caroline Roach) narrates the tale of Andrew Jackson (Michael Tarasovich). While “Bloody Bloody” contains some history, there are a lot of alternative facts. It would be unwise to turn in a history paper citing some of the examples from the play. It’s purposefully riddled with anachronisms; replete with electric guitars and telephones. There’s a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” feeling throughout. Before the Storyteller can dish too much dirt (and/or oodles of exposition), she is quickly dispatched, by a gun, in the throat, by our hero, Old Hickory.
Basically “Bloody Bloody” the story of a foul-mouthed racist who becomes president. When Jackson talks of freedom, he means only white Anglo-Saxon Americans and no one else. Red Masquers timing is impeccable, almost prescient. Don’t worry, if you don’t get it. Dramaturg Eva Diodati spells it out very clearly in her notes, in a witty and clever section of the program.
At the onset of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the chorus sings, “And we’re gonna take this country back…from people like us who don’t just think about things. People who make things happen. Sometimes with guns. Sometimes with speeches, too.”
Jackson’s story is a complicated one. He founded the Democratic Party. He was a national hero. He was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Native Americans when he initiated the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The most memorable song is a child-like rhyme about the Trail of Tears titled, “Ten Little Indians,” marvelously rendered by Lauren Gardonis. The song is catchy and haunting.
Tarasovich is a charimatic lead. While their are many actors playing multiple roles, the show rests on the portrayal of Andrew Jackson. He does a fine job.
John E. Lane, Jr.’s set design is flawless. It’s a flashback to punk rock clubs in the 80s, like Pittsburgh’s Decade and the aforementioned CBGB. Costume and make-up were equally on par with the set. The cast rocked the look. They were one Mohawk away from perfection (the hair-style not the Native American).
Don’t be fooled by the saintly name of the Genesius Theater. This musical is not for nuns, unless you know a sister that swears like a sailor. There is also strobe lights and smoke.
Musicals are difficult. Everyone has to look right, sound right and the choreography must be flawless for it to work. There are a few weak links in the chain (not the one separating the band from the action), but it shouldn’t stop you from seeing this show. “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” isn’t a perfect musical, but it’s an important one, especially now.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” runs till March 19 at the Genesius Theater on Duquesne campus in downtown Pittsburgh. For more information, click here.